21 September 2010

Millennium Part 2- THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE Review

I finally caught up with the second part of the Millennium trilogy in cinemas after a few near-misses on my trips to the Tyneside Cinema. It eventually came to the local Cineworld, which was a nice change. The Girl Who Played With Fire, for those who don't know, is the sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I reviewed here earlier this year.

A year on from the Vanger case, Lisbeth Salander returns to Stockholm from travelling the world, and is promptly framed for a triple murder. She becomes the subject of a national manhunt, and one of the few who believes in her innocence is Blomkvist. He also believes the murders to be connected to a sex trafficking ring Millennium was about to expose, and tries to re-establish contact with Lisbeth as he investigates.

Since I reviewed the first film, it has been confirmed that Rooney Mara will play Lisbeth in David Fincher's English-language remake of the series, with Noomi Rapace having finished with the role to try and break into Hollywood as the female lead in Sherlock Holmes 2. After two films, it's all too clear that everyone involved in the remakes have their work cut out for them, if they want to come close to matching the quality of filmmaking on display from the Swedish versions.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is simultaneously a step forwards and backwards from its predecessor. In the way of many sequels, it raises the stakes exponentially and makes for a very gripping continuation. Unfortunately, the stakes are inflated to a point where it's almost difficult to recognise this as taking place in the same universe as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is mostly down to the presence of Niedermann, a seven foot tall Aryan antagonist who has the physiological quirk of being immune to pain.

In this way, it's ironic that Daniel Craig has signed on for Fincher's version, because the original seems to have been invaded by an old-timey Bond henchman. I'm waiting to read Stieg Larsson's books until after I've seen the films, but this introduction just seemed bizarre at first. I got past my initial surprise though, and I admit that Niedermann is an intimidating presence rather than a comical one, which only makes the last act revelation of a full-on disfigured sub-Bond villain more of a betrayal.

There's also a surfeit of the infamous teal and orange look that's becoming more and more prolific in Hollywood films, and I was astonished and annoyed to see colour grading used so liberally here. After seeing Niels Arden Oplev shoot the snowy vistas of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so well, I'm not sure why new director Daniel Alfredson went the other way entirely- it's distracting.

Right, onto the step forward stuff. After the televisual pacing of the previous instalment, the enlarged stakes do help to make the story feel more cinematic. For all of the flaws I picked out above, it does grab your attention and clutch it all the way through. Noomi Rapace expands upon her initial performance as Lisbeth, proving that it was no fluke, and she's still the most watchable character. Michael Nyqvist gets a bit more to do this time around as Blomkvist, given more motivation by his intellectual infatuation with Lisbeth.

It's also admirable that this story expands to bring in new characters without ever forgetting the existence of minor characters from the last time around. We catch up with several characters from the first film and this continues in the slightly literary feel that made the first one so captivating. Without having read the books, I can tell that some of the dialogue is lifted straight from the prose, i.e. "It was like he'd had boxing lessons, but he hadn't really paid attention." While it often doesn't quite work when you lift wholesale from the source, in films like the first two Harry Potter adaptations, there's a rich sense of detail in the Millennium films that seems to have leapt right off the page.

It all builds to a conclusion that is both typical of the second act of a trilogy and boldly enticing. It ends with the same kind of hook for the final part of the trilogy that we've seen in The Empire Strikes Back or The Two Towers, but I'm damned if it didn't have me counting down the days until I can see the final film. The mystery at the heart of this film isn't so much self-contained as it is a connector between the introduction to the characters and the inevitably epic conclusion, and I can only express mild disappointment that it didn't end as definitively as the first film.

Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire fumbles the resolution of its individual storyline, but in Lisbeth, these films have a central enigma far more intriguing than whatever criminal activities have aroused the interest of our players. Her continuing story is fascinating, aided by the fantastic Rapace, and this is exploited by keeping Blomkvist, the audience's viewpoint, separate from her for much of the film. This sequel is more or less on equal standing with its predecessor, but I'll judge the series as a whole once I've seen how it ends- with a whimper or with a bang.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is showing in selected cinemas nationwide. Part 3, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest arrives in selected cinemas on November 25th.
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If you've seen The Girl Who Played With Fire, why not share your comments below? If you're thinking what I'm thinking, you're wondering if Richard Kiel will play Niedermann in the English language version, just for the LOLs.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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